Commentary. The Italian crisis defies the laws of political physics: the government is non-functioning, but it keeps going, while the country slips further into decline.

A surreal crisis in a sinking country

The government is dead, but it’s still moving. The opposition would like to say it is alive and revived, but it isn’t able to actually ‘oppose’ anything.

As for “the people,” they are nothing more than a sum of mutually resentful and competitive individuals, who, at the same time, have come together and produced one of the worst populist governments out there today.

At the bottom of it all lies the core paradox that accounts for all the others: a failed country that doesn’t fail to keep going.

It is probably this unspoken primary truth, never acknowledged and always looming threateningly just out of sight, that makes the Italian crisis so surreal, as if it was suspended in mid-air in an eternal frozen moment. This is the factor that makes the crisis defy the laws of political physics on a daily basis.

Take the case of Matteo Salvini, his new Lega boosted up to national stature and the Russian scandal: in any normal organism, this should cause some bleeding of support—but no, it is still growing in the polls. Like in the urban myth that says a frog will explode if you put a cigarette in its mouth: its shapeless body will continue to swell more and more, until, finally, it will burst—but only at the very end. In the meantime, the Lega’s support is growing, fueled by administering to an electorate who is in dire need of bread a massive dose of cruel circuses, a performance consisting of a display of ferocity towards the weakest (see the recent evictions in the Primavalle neighborhood in Rome) and the basest language thrown at those who are doing good (see the outrageous insults against Carola Rackete).

Or, at the opposite pole, let us consider Nicola Zingaretti. I saw him the other night on In Onda, and could not believe my ears as I heard him pleading for early elections right now, no ifs or buts: the polls should decide the winner and finally establish bipartisanship in our country, which is on a path to a glorious future. I wondered what he must have been smoking to imagine such a scenario, when everyone knows that if a vote was held now, the Meloni-Salvini axis would win decisively, with such a large majority that it would allow them to elect the next President of the Republic as well as change the Constitution.

But then I realized that the goal of the new secretary of the Democratic Party on that particular evening was not to reassure the majority of the country, but to terrorize the PD’s internal Renzian minority, those who are occupying seats in the parliamentary groups and who fear an election like the plague. Likewise, Di Maio’s major concern is not to implement the guiding principles of his “movement,” but to control, and possibly intimidate, Salvini, his government partner. As for Salvini, he wants to always leave Di Maio holding the bag. The same logic applies even to Ferrero and Fratoianni, each of them committed to jealously guarding his own share of the meager 1.5% they picked up at the polls.

The truth is that in this very hot summer of 2019, every leader of a party or movement is looking down at his own feet, trying to measure the distance required to trip up his neighbor.

No one has the courage to look up and around, at a country that is sinking, with a huge middle class (there is no more real Italian “Big Bourgeoisie,” just as the “Workers” have vanished from sight) in a state of advancing decomposition, frightened by its decline and rendered hysterical by the fear of the future, and an overflowing underclass, increasing more and more as a share of the population as the “great transformation” is implemented. A classless society made up of a thousand smaller groups, most unproductive, largely ignorant, jealous and resentful of the still-existing privileges and seeking vengeance for those lost.

One is reminded of the words that a great eyewitness of his time, Ernst Bloch, wrote in the first half of the 1930s about Germany: “The age is rotting, and at the same time it is in labor,” which represented precisely this character of being “suspended” in the void between “no longer” and “not yet” which characterized the politics and social life at the time.

Then, in the chapter entitled “Dust,” he writes about “those who don’t make it … full of bitterness, who keeps back, bloodied and darkened.” They are at the same time victims and perpetrators, of themselves and against others: “They strike at everyone around them, most of all downwards, where they themselves risk being made to sink.”

Bloch also discussed language in his book, very relevant to us nowadays, to which he uncoincidentally gave the name The Heritage of Our Time: namely, the “illusory” language of the Nazis, false and yet very effective at creating the “illusion” that was meant to replace the failed “utopia.” He also described the sincere and yet unpersuasive language of their opponents, unable to give Utopia back its transformative force, with their statistical formulas, numbers and tables, which, like the chemical analysis of a bottle of mineral water, have become fundamentally disconnected from “the taste of water as you are drinking it.”

Only a cold, hard dose of reality can defuse the hypnotic illusionism of populist demagoguery. Only those who are able to use a language of truth—who have the authority, knowledge and morality required to do so—and who can look unflinchingly at, and reveal, the true extent of the disaster they have before them (or rather “below” them) could neutralize the crude power wielded by the short-haul “Captain” and his followers.

Likewise, and paradoxically, only a comeback of Utopia—a spark of hope in the possibility that the despotism of the present age can be transcended in order to render time open again—could restore to those “bloodied and darkened” men, who are now entrusting themselves to the prophets of nothingness, their humanity.

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